Lorraine Loh-Norris Palos Verdes High School STEM and advanced math teacher works from her kitchen table in Palos Verde Estates on Friday, April 24, 2020. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

When doors to Southern California schools closed in mid-March, public school teachers were given anywhere from a couple days to a few hours of preparation for “distance learning” amid the burgeoning pandemic.

They photocopied and stapled packets of schoolwork in a flurry, many with no idea just how long they would be away from their classrooms. With students’ education interrupted, methods have varied from one virtual classroom to another.

For students, a persistent “digital divide” between those with and without access to technology at home threatened to deepen educational inequity. Education experts warn of long-term harm to students dealing with isolation or home troubles as job losses continue to mount.

School leaders, after planning for online graduations and virtual summer school, are now warning that a fall return to campuses can’t happen safely without more state and federal funding in the wake of coronavirus-spurred budget cuts. 

All the while, teachers rolled with the punches. They started teaching Zoom lessons from the park, carved out work space on the porch or in the bedroom, and in some cases helped their students’ families buy food.

Photographer Keith Birmingham was eager to snag portraits of a few of these educators in their home-teaching environments. You can see all the photos from across Los Angeles county here.

Here are two of our Palos Verdes Peninsula teachers who were included:

Lorraine Loh-Norris

Palos Verdes Estates resident | STEM teacher |  Palos Verdes High School

In a class usually full of “aha” moments when a pre-calculus or engineering concept clicks with a student, Loh-Norris laments the inability to tell whether a student is catching on via video chat. She feels like she’s simply feeding them the material instead of helping them discover it.

“A lot of the time, the kids’ box (on Zoom) will just have their name on it, and not turn their camera on,” she said. “But when they turned their cameras on it made me really emotional because I miss them and won’t get to see them or say goodbye.”

Kristen Gagnon

Palos Verdes Estates resident | 3rd grade teacher | Silver Spur Elementary, Rancho Palos Verdes

From the makeshift virtual classroom she set up in her bedroom, Gagnon said about a third of her students are finishing all their assignments and another third are struggling.

“I’ll tell you, in the Zoom, it’s very funny — they act in the same way as they do in the classroom. I have to keep muting the same children,” she said.


Third Grade Teacher Kristen Gagnon of Silver Spur Elementary School in Palos Verdes Estates teachers from her bedroom in Palos Verde Estates on Friday, April 24, 2020. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

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